By Kristi Letsinger
My family enjoys character meals, as they give us a chance to meet personally with the Disney characters without having to wait in the lines in the parks. We recently spent eight days in the Walt Disney World parks. We took the opportunity to eat at many of the character meals offered by Disney. Read on to see where we went, and what we thought of each meal.
The Garden Grill in the Land at Epcot
- Characters: Chip and Dale, Mickey, Pluto
Pros: The character interaction was wonderful, with each character taking time to interact and entertain our party. At one point Chip took one of our autograph books and ran off with it. Then he came back with it and extra hugs! This was extremely funny and it made the 10-year-old feel really special that Chip had taken that much time for her. The food was excellent. The variety of the food was good as well. One of the best parts of this restaurant is that it revolves. At some points you can see The Land ride.
Cons: There are very few that we could find. We had a very positive experience here!
The Crystal Palace in the Magic Kingdom
- Characters: Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, Eeyore
Pros: The restaurant is light and airy with the white furniture and walls. The food area is open and easy accessible for all and the variety of food is good. One of the joys of this restaurant is that if you get an early-enough reservation, you get to enter the Magic Kingdom before it opens and walk down Main Street U.S.A. when it’s practically empty. This makes for great picture opportunities and memories! The character interaction is wonderful as well, with the characters stopping by more than once. The short parade with the characters is also fun for the kids as they walk around the restaurant with the characters.
Cons: The bathrooms are not large enough for a large crowd.
The Princess Breakfast in Norway at Epcot
- Characters: Ariel, Cinderella, Snow White, Belle, and Sleeping Beauty/Aurora
Pros: The restaurant is located in Norway and is themed around that culture. The architecture is interesting if you have time to really look. The character interaction was great. The princesses would bend down and talk with each girl. Our children were dressed in princess dresses and all of the princesses commented on how beautiful they looked. Ariel took the time to take a picture with the three-year-old, then came back and kissed her on the cheek. The main food is served family style with other options on a buffet-type bar.
Cons: The service here was not as quick as other meals. The variety of food was okay but again, not as good as other meals.
Chef Mickey in the Contemporary Resort
- Characters: Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, Pluto
Pros: The atmosphere was very festive and brightly colored. The variety of food was good and there was something there for everyone. It is on the monorail line, so you can park at Magic Kingdom and catch the monorail to the restaurant and then back to the Magic Kingdom. The characters all had on aprons to go along with the chef theme.
Cons: The restaurant is so large that you only get to see the characters once. We did not feel that the character interaction was as good as some of the other meals. There was little interaction — just posing for a picture and moving on.
Donald’s Safari Breakfast in the Animal Kingdom
- Characters: Daisy, Donald, Mickey, Minnie
Pros: This restaurant is themed around Africa. The pictures, some of the food, and the building itself were very interesting to look at. The food set-up looked like an open market and was fun to walk through to see the different foods. Our meal started with with a mixed juice drink that was wonderful — our whole party enjoyed it. This is the only meal that features Daisy as one of the characters.
Cons: The character interaction here was not very good. Each character paused only for a short moment to take a picture. We had very little time to even have them sign the autograph book. They did a short parade around the restaurant but due to the size of the space the parade was crowded, short, and difficult for the kids to get around.
We have eaten at a few of these restaurants before, during past trips. This time seemed to be consistent with our other visits in terms of food quality, friendliness, etc.
The 10-year-old in our party has a food allergy. We contacted Disney before our trip to let them know that we would need to speak with a chef at each restaurant to find out what selections she could eat. She felt very special as the chef at each restaurant came out and talked to her. At the Crystal Palace, he led her through the buffet line to show her what was best for her. Her favorite experience with a chef was at the Garden Grill, where the chef was friendly and helpful. He checked on our party three times and spoke with us about the special brands of breads and other foods that Disney carries that she could eat. He also made her a special cake just for her!
We found that we each had a favorite restaurant for different reasons. The three-year-old loved the princess breakfast best, as we were lucky enough to be there on a day with Cinderella and Ariel. The 10-year-old liked the Garden Grill best because Chip played around with her and gave her lots of hugs and high fives. I liked Crystal Palace the best due to the characters and the open and airy feel that it has.
Our overall experience at each restaurant was positive. There are pros and cons for each, but the magic of Disney is evident in each and every meal. Without missing a detail, Disney has taken the task of eating and turned it into an event. As we begin the planning for our next trip, we are already thinking about what restaurants we want to do again and what restaurants we want to try for the first time.